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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Sydney Ice Arena is located in the north western suburbs of Sydney. It is a general use ice sports facility with a seating capacity of over 1,000. The arena enjoys high usage from the general public as well as sporting teams, and is home for the Sydney Bears of the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL).
Ice hockey is semi-professional in Australia with mostly volunteers involved in running the sport. As an interesting quirk, the AIHL play two 15 minute periods and one 20 minute period. The league was formed in 2000 and currently consists of eight teams, including two in Sydney. The AIHL recently struck a broadcast deal with Fox Sports which will hopefully increase the profile of the sport in Australia. An international series between USA and Canada was also played in Australia in 2013 while a six part series on the Melbourne Ice and their bid to three-peat the AIHL (2010, 2011, and 2012) also aired on Fox.
Most players in the AIHL are Australians however there is also a sprinkling of players from North America and Canada. As an example, Doug Wilson Jr (son of San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson) played for Melbourne Ice in 2012.
The Sydney Bears were founded in 1982 and were a foundation club of the AIHL. They were originally known as the Macquarie Bears and have a strong affiliated junior ice hockey club. The Bears have previously played at Penrith but established themselves at the Sydney Ice Arena in 2012.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The food and beverage offerings at the Sydney Ice Arena are very much standard kiosk fare. Hot food options include hot dogs ($4), meat pie ($4), hot chips ($4), sausage roll ($3.50) and calamari and chips ($6). There's also a range of snacks including potato chips ($2), chocolates ($2) and numerous confectionary items. Cold drinks are priced around $3 and include soft drinks (Coke, Lift, Sprite and Fanta), bottled water, Powerade, and fruit juice. Coffee and tea are also available. There are no alcoholic beverages available.
The venue itself is quite modern, but very much a recreational venue. However the seating options for ice hockey are respectable. The majority of the seating is elevated on the southern side with only a small amount of seating at ground level on the northern side. Crowds appear quite small with around 200 in attendance for most games. The 2013 season for the Bears has not been particularly successful which may also be contributing to the low numbers.
There's a large video screen used as a scoreboard in the north western corner, but it's not very bright and hence a little difficult to read. There is no glass around the ice, only netting. The ground level seating on the northern side, in particular, is quite intimate in relation to the game.
However, all seats afford a good view of the game. There's no bench area for the players which means the players stand adjacent to the rink. As such, fans are quite close to the players, which is quite cool.
There is a Bears mascot who is moderately involved in encouraging the fans. The outside of the venue is especially aesthetically pleasing with a small lake right out front.
Sydney Ice Arena is located in Norwest Business Park, which is situated in the suburbs of Baulkham Hills and Bella Vista. The precinct is home to numerous corporations but also features a shopping centre, hospital, parks, a hotel, swimming centre, health club, and child care facilities. There are also several cafes and restaurants, mostly covering Modern Australian cuisine as well as Italian, Portuguese, Thai and fast food (Subway).
Bella Vista also has a range of cafes and restaurants close by. Norwest is self-sufficient and thus you should have no problems finding something to do before or after a hockey game.
The Bears have a small band of committed fans. It is great to see a number of fans wearing Bears jerseys. The level of excitement when the home team scores is actually quite impressive, but the arena is fairly quiet in between goals. During my most recent visit, there were also a few opposition fans (Melbourne Ice) in attendance, also wearing their team's jersey.
The supporters all seem fairly knowledgeable about the game. The AIHL and the clubs are doing an admirable job in attempting to grow the supporter base so hopefully we will see more people attending games over the next few years.
Norwest Business Park is conveniently located near a number of major roads; namely the M2 motorway and Windsor Road. Traffic can be heavy during business hours but this is unlikely to be a factor for hockey games. There's an abundance of free parking options within easy walking distance but there's not a lot of parking specific to the arena.
Plans are afoot for a north-west rail line which will provide much needed mass transit to the area. In the meantime, Norwest is currently served by the North West T-Way - a rapid transit bus line. Generally, driving should be a good option to attend a game.
Once on site the venue is easy to navigate. Tickets are bought at the door so it's easier if you have cash with you. Bathrooms are located under the main stand, as is the concession stand.
Tickets for Bears home games are priced at $15 with concessions, $10, and children $5. A family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) is available for $30 which is a savings of $10.
Value for the money is quite good. The biggest selling point is that a Bears game at Sydney Ice Arena is very family friendly - both in terms of price and the game itself. The game I attended was not violent in any way (no fights). This may disappoint some pro hockey fans both here in Australia and visitors from overseas, but is a definite plus when it comes to attracting Australian families to the sport of ice hockey.
The first extra point is for the free program which allows first-timers a chance to see the line-ups and hopefully connect with the game better. The second extra point is for the initiatives that the Bears (and other clubs) have taken to grow their fan base. The 2013 season has seen promotions with both the Sydney Kings (NBL) basketball team and the Sydney Blue Sox (ABL) baseball team. This is a good way to link sports that are trying to crack a very competitive marketplace and also tap into fans of the professional American sports.
While the standard of hockey isn't fantastic, a Sydney Bears game at the Sydney Ice Arena is good value for hockey fans and general sports fans alike. The venue is pleasant and access is good. I encourage more people to support the AIHL and attend a game.
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